A roundabout route on to Hugh Seat and High Seat via Birkdale and Great Sled Dale returning via Little Sled Dale and the lonely Birkdale Tarn.
|Parking:||Roadside parking, Birkdale|
|Route:||Download Route [GPX]|
This exploration of the small valleys at the head of Swaledale was based on a route that I'd plotted some years ago but had never got round to testing out. Finding a starting place on the narrow Birkdale road was one of the sticking points but thanks to the power of Google Street View I managed to locate a suitable spot for my friend Paul to park his car.
From the grassy verge where we parked the car we immediately had an extensive view of the lonely moors to the south. We also got the attention of the local sheep who flocked towards us when we got out of the car. When they realised we didn't have anything to offer them they soon dispersed. Walking east along the road a short way we then took a faint path dropping down past the farm at Birkdale to reach Stone House and an enclosed lane leading to Birkdale Beck.
"The track continued upstream, crossing and re-crossing the beck a number of times. It didn't take long at all for my feet to be quite wet."
Supposedly this is a ford but after a very wet winter it wasn't the easiest to cross. Immediately to the left of our crossing was the confluence of Birkdale Beck and Great Sleddale Beck which, joined together, form the River Swale. Once across there was a good track leading up in to Great Sled Dale, initially passing some old mine workings and a very deep looking shaft which was only partially covered by some rusty old metal.
The track continued upstream, crossing and re-crossing the beck a number of times. It didn't take long at all for my feet to be quite wet. Eventually we came to the series of enclosed pastures that stand out so much when studying Great Sled Dale on a map. Just past the old barn that was presumably Sleddale House, we crossed the beck again to the south bank and continued on a now pathless course deep into the upper reaches of the valley. After passing two pretty little waterfalls we crossed back over for one final time.
Gradually slanting up above the stream we crossed the moorland of Red Mea before making a beeline for the summit of Hugh Seat. Making use of Lady's Pillar as a somewhat dubious windbreak we ate our lunch before continuing northwards over Archy Styrigg and on to High Seat. Fortunately I'd been up on these tops in glorious weather the previous autumn so I wasn't too disappointed with the grey and cloudy skies.
From the top of High Seat we once again left behind any vestiges of a path and set off eastwards to find the top of Brockholes Gill. Not only was this the key to our return via Little Sled Dale it also meant that I could feed my current waterfall obsession by going in search of Brockholes Force. The latter turned out to be the slightly larger of a number of little waterfalls in the gill. Probably easier to approach climbing up the gill rather than down it the location of Brockholes Force below the rocks of the Brockholes was really quite lovely.
Continuing on downstream we crossed the mouth of Brockholes Gill just above where it joins Long Gill to form Little Sleddale Beck. On the other side of the stream we joined a broad shooters track that seemed to run the whole length of the valley. Indeed Little Sled Dale seems to have been completely taken over by grouse shooters with huts, butts and traps everywhere. Eventually the track climbed up out of the valley before dropping down to Birkdale Beck just below a very small but attractive waterfall.
Crossing the bridge there was a steep pull up to the road. Instead of turning right and heading all the way back to the car we instead followed the road a short way before climbing up past the crags of Fox Holes and on to Birkdale Tarn. The third largest sheet of water in the Yorkshire Dales I'd often seen it from afar but this was my first visit to the shores of the tarn. From the tarn it was then a simple walk back down to the road to complete what had been an interesting ramble in an area largely unfrequented by walkers, or anyone else for that matter.